The Hostile Child

Stott gives an excellent description of hostility in children; describing hostility as similar to the emotional state of a jilted lover. This may seem a little strange in the context of children and their relationships with those who care, teach or play with them, until we unpick the causes. A jilted lover feels unjustly treated, not deserving of his or her predicament; life has not treated them fairly. When explaining this to teachers and parents the universal response is that the child gets treated more than fairly, in fact people have bent over backwards to help encourage the child to engage in his/her learning and social environments in an appropriate way, but to no avail.

The first thing to remember is that we are never dealing with objective reality, but with the human perceptual system. If a child is presenting hostile behavior we must try and understand how they are interpreting and understanding the world. We need to explore the home culture of the child. Are they an only child and used to feeling special? Are the parents using a parenting style inherited from another culture? Irish parenting is very different to English parenting as an example. Does the child have some form of social comprehension problem? Does the child have a physiological problem that drives their behavior, such as ADHD, a tumor or undetected chromosome abnormality? Does the child have a hearing problem? One could go on.

We will never solve this problem with sanctions, as you may have discovered. Sanctions will, in fact, reinforce the hostility and make the problem worse. Only by gathering information, undertaking classroom and playground observations, and asking carefully crafted questions will we be in a position to review the material and gain a glimpse at the possible cause. We can test our hypothesis by delivering a precisely targeted classroom intervention linked to regular review. If the hypothesis is accurate, then behavioral change will result in a much happier and well-socialised child.